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Riven Rock Paperback – January 1, 1999

3.9 out of 5 stars 59 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

In 1905, Stanley McCormick, heir to East Coast millions, is most definitely mad. Heredity and an early, horrifying glimpse of his naked sister have rendered him schizophrenic, incapable of being around women--right down to his wife, Katherine, "a newlywed who might as well have been a widow." Not even the dawn of modern psychiatry can save him. Instead, he's barred and carefully cosseted in Riven Rock, the California estate he helped design for his sister, the first of the McCormicks to crack. Will the 31-year-old patient be cured? His wife, the first female graduate of MIT, believes that he will. So, too, does his loyal head nurse, Eddie O'Kane, a preternaturally articulate, handsome Boston Irishman. Indeed, Eddie thinks himself blessed with good luck. Going to Montecito to care for Mr. McCormick will, he is convinced, enable him to take center stage in the drama of his own life.

Over the next 20 years, Stanley will go from catatonia to a semblance of normality (so long as there's no woman in sight and no sharp cutlery on the table). Eddie, however, will never play the leading role he'd envisioned, instead taking refuge in alcohol and recollections of the one woman he thinks he has let get away, the plainspoken, explosive Giovannella Dimucci. When Eddie first describes his patient's violent response to women, "he wondered if he'd gone too far, if he'd shocked her, but the mask dissolved and she leaned in close, her hand on his elbow. 'Sounds like the average man to me.'" As for Katherine McCormick, she will still visit every Christmas, hoping to at least see her husband if she can't see him get better.

Based on a true story, Riven Rock is unclassifiable, a discomforting and often hilarious mix of tragedy and comedy. (Only Orson Welles could do the book justice on film.) T. C. Boyle writes in a controlled frenzy of rich description and dialogue, pulling us up sharply each time we begin to wonder if his patient isn't a helpless victim. Eddie recalls one nurse before Stanley "got to her": "She was a shadow in a back corner of his mind, a cat you pick up to stroke and then put down again when it stops purring.... Now she was back in Rhode Island, with her mother, but the look of her that day, the way her eyes had melted away to nothing and the color had gone out of her so you could see every lash and hair on her head like brushstrokes in oil, came to him in infinite sadness."

Boyle has great empathy, but there is no avoiding his novel's comic energy. Stanley's first psychiatrist-jailer, Dr. Hamilton, is obsessed with primate sexuality and will go to Riven Rock only if Katherine funds a large living laboratory. He spends all of his time watching the imprisoned creatures copulate, a pathetic counterpoint to his patient's plight. The sight of the disheveled doctor following one animal encounter amuses even the suspicious Katherine. "To his credit, the doctor laughed too. And O'Kane, the bruiser, who'd gone absolutely pale at the tiny hominoids that couldn't have weighed a twentieth of what he did, joined in, albeit belatedly and with a laugh that trailed off into a whinny." Alas, all goes awry when Hamilton takes the joke too far and declares his chimps "the very devils--they're even worse than my patients." Riven Rock is a maximum-velocity study of love, primal energy, and what is sacrosanct in society: control. It is also about loyalty, absurdity, domesticity, and depravity, all of which, Boyle knows, coexist within the best of souls. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

When Stanley McCormick, the brilliant but highly strung son of the inventor of the Reaper, marries Boston socialite and MIT graduate Katherine Dexter, the papers call it the wedding of the century. But the marriage is never consummated, and after a disastrous honeymoon, a catatonic Stanley is moved to Riven Rock, a prisonlike mission in Santa Barbara. Diagnosed as a schizophrenic sex maniac, Stanley is to be kept entirely separate from women, including Katherine, who may speak to him only by telephone. Katherine goes on to become a major figure in the burgeoning suffrage movement and even smuggles a steamer trunk full of contraceptives into the country in support of Margaret Sanger, but she never divorces her husband or gives up hoping for a cure. Riven Rock resembles The Road to Wellville (LJ 3/15/93) in its send-up of medical quackery in the early years of the century, but here the fact-based love story takes precedence over satire. This affecting and surprisingly mature novel is Boyle's best book since Water Music (1981). Recommended for most fiction collections.
-?Edward B. St. John, Loyola Law Sch. Lib., Los Angeles
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 480 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books; First Printing edition (January 1, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9780140271669
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140271669
  • ASIN: 014027166X
  • Product Dimensions: 5 x 1 x 7.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (59 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #608,573 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By B. Smith on March 21, 1998
Format: Hardcover
Boyle has written an almost mythic exploration of the sexual tensions between men and women. There is exquisite irony in the commonality between the two principle male characters: the wealthy and brilliant schizophrenic Stanley McCormick who is deemed to be so dangerous to women that he must be kept away from them forever, and his nurse Eddie O'Kane the supposedly normal male who beats his wife, beds every woman he can, deserts his son, drinks too much, and gets into bar fights. Who is the madman, the book begs us to ask, and who is normal? If both men suffer, and their wives and families also suffer, what is the cure? McCormick's loyal wife Katherine tries to answer this question by engaging in two lifelong pursuits that seem, at first glance, to be unrelated and even contradictory. One is her selfless dedication to her husband's well-being and hope for his cure, and the second is her role as an activist in the women's suffrage movement where she strives for sexual equality and lives, if only temporarily and by choice, in a world without men. But every attempted cure -- from Katherine's response as a social activist to the wackiness of early 20th Century psychiatry, to O'Kane's wives' and girlfriends' manipulations -- fails. Almost a hundred years later, we still don't have a good answer to the question of how men and women are supposed to live together. In the end, Riven Rock is a tragedy and the questions it raises remain unanswered.
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Format: Paperback
T.C. Boyle writes with a manic energy and a sardonic edge that render each and every page dazzling, riveting, and thoroughly enjoyable. He felicity of expression is matched by few of his contemporaries among American novelists (Jonathan Franzen, Tom Wolfe, and John Irving come to mind for me). Consequently, no matter what subject matter he chooses, his books are always a joy to read.
Boyle apparently encountered the historical basis for *Riven Rock* soon after he moved to the Santa Barbara area some years ago. Yes, Stanley McCormick, the tall, handsome youngest son of the legendary inventor of the mechanical reaper, was indeed schizophrenic, he did indeed marry the wealthy socialite Katherine Dexter in 1904, and he did indeed spend most of his adult life locked away with doctors, nurses, and attendants in a palacial Montecito estate. In *Riven Rock*, Boyle takes the historical misfortune that was the McCormick-Dexter marriage and transforms it into a fascinating story that is at once tragic, bizarre, and pathetic, and yet which is also riddled with sometimes unexpected touches of humor.
The humorous veneer to this otherwise tragic tale stems from Boyle's skills as a savage social critic with an unerring eye for the foibles that are part and parcel of the human condition. Having already caricatured the faddish American cult of health and nutrition in *The Road to Wellville*, Boyle here lampoons the pretentions of early twentieth century psychiatry and in a broader way, the overall vapidity of upper class life and discourse.
And Boyle does so much more.
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Format: Paperback
I'm a Boyle fan. I'm so glad to have discovered him and to know that every six months or so I can pick up a book (a new one or one of his many earlier works) and enjoy his quirky characters, inventive storylines and his wonderful language. Riven Rock is another strong showing. It's not as purely entertaining as Drop City, or as inventive as A Friend of the Earth, but it's a solid novel that displays all of Boyle's wit and linguistic gusto.

He's so good that I've come to accept certain characteristics of his writing that others might call flaws. For example, I don't think he nails endings with real finality. His books just eventually get to a point where it's time to stop. Everything isn't necessarily wrapped up. Now, if you're looking for things tied up neatly you'll be disappointed. But if you know that's unlikely to happen you'll do just fine. A T.C. Boyle book is likely NOT to lead to Stanley's miraculous recovery. You may hope for it throughout, but any Boyle reader will know not to expect the obvious.

I also find that over various books some of his charactes start to be duplicated in variations. The Edward character from this one, for example, is much like other selfish - horney - fickle - pathetic (and yet charismatic) characters from Boyle stories and novels. It's a type he returns to again and again. Personally, I like that. I'll take a little break, and then pick up another T.C. novel soon.
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I saw TC Boyle discussing Riven Rock on A&E on a Sundaymorning and it seemed fascinating, so I hopped on Amazon that day andordered it. I've read several novels based on historical facts, so I seen elsewhere the struggle that novelists who write this type of novel are faced with- How do you tell the "truth" without frustrating or boring people if the truth is, in fact, frustrating or boring.
Unfortunately, I was both frustrated and bored with this book. This is my first TC Boyle book and the man can write. I could smell Stanley's rotten teeth and I could see him scrubbing his toes. I also really shared (as best I could) Stanley's fear and disorientation at becoming like his mentally ill sister. This is probably part of the problem.
The story is about a guy with rich and mean parents who meets a girl who, despite the fact that he is CLEARLY becoming more and more mentally ill, marries him anyway. And this is no ordinary woman. This is the first female graduate of MIT, in the physical sciences, no less. This is a woman with a scientific and practical mind. Unfortunately, Boyle is saddled with the task of explaining sympathetically why this woman- despite all evidence suggesting she should borrow Julia Robert's running shoes from that flick last year and RUN LIKE HELL- doesn't. I just didn't buy it. I had assumed that Stanley didn't display evidence of mental illness until after they were married- but oh no. She had every opportunity to make like a tree.
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